Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

The only thing we have to fear is another ‘Walking Dead’ spin-off

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

AMC, you’ve gone too far.

Better Call Saul was a great choice for a spinoff. You had a couple of interesting, vital, skeevy, secretive side characters, Saul and Mike, who were part Walter White’s story but weren’t really the focus of Breaking Bad, nor they should they have been. But there was so much going on with those two in Breaking Bad that exploring what got them to the point that they working with Heisenberg was a rich vein to mine, if done correctly. The first season proved Saul has something going on, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

But AMC couldn’t stop there. No, we were force-fed Fear the Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that could have been explored in the Dead-verse. For example, why not focus on the government response to the calamity. What was going on in statehouses? How did the president and his (or her) advisers react to the crisis? We were given a glimpse of the CDC reaction in Walking Dead, but why not follow the research component of response to this pandemic? Why not leave the United States and give us a cast in sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, India, the Philipines? Heck, how about the struggle of the folks up in the International Space Station as they try to figure out what has happened on the ground and how they’re going to get back? The possibilities are virtually endless, restrained only by the imagination of the creative team. Everything I wrote here I thought up as I was writing it. Surely, given time and resources, the Fear the Walking Dead folks could have developed something beyond my abilities.

Instead of a million interesting, unique scenarios, however, we were given a West-Coast version of the East-Coast show we were already watching. It feels like we’re being fed under-heated, leftover lasagna that was overcooked in the first place. We watched as different people made the same mistakes we’d already seen our plucky Walking Dead heroes make over and over again. But, hey, L.A.! That has to count for something, right?

It’s disappointing. It comes off as the sort of crass money grab one would expect from one of the major networks instead of something new and interesting from the cable network who has dropped some pretty interesting drama in our laps over the past five years or so. It’s not must-watch television, period. Heck, after the first season of Walking Dead, I could name most of the characters off of the top of my head. Notice how I haven’t mentioned any Fear the Walking Dead characters by name? That’s because not only do I not remember any names, I don’t consider it worth my time to hop over to IMDB and look them up.

So, sorry, AMC. I eagerly anticipate your small-screen version of the Preacher comic book series, and I’m sure I’ll get into some of your original programming down the road. But Fear the Walking Dead is about as interesting to me as AfterMASH or That 80’s Show. And so, much as I did with those shows and others like them, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Humanity of ‘Humans’ is what makes series work

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box ... or is she?

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box … or is she?

I wanted to like Humans more.

At the family level, it works so well. When we’re with the Hawkins clan and their human-like robotic caretaker, Anita, Humans is in top form. The five Hawkins work well together and form a believable, likable and flawed family. Anita’s insertion into the tense marital relationship of Joe and Laura, new “mom” for little Sophie, ideal female form for horny teen Toby and constant reminder that humans are becoming obsolete to the oldest Hawkins kid, Mattie, all make for incredibly well-acted and crafted scenes and explore what the introduction of synthetic humans would mean at the personal level for real humans. You get more touches of that with William Hurt’s Dr. George Millican, a once leading scientist in the Synth field now losing his memories, relying on his Synth and de facto son Odi to remind him of events from his and his wife’s life together. Another ripple is added when we meet Pete Drummond, a detective whose ailing wife is cared for by a Synth that makes him feel worthless as he simultaneously draws the loving attention of his partner, Karen. These three storylines nail the impact of human simulations being released in the real world. It’s a unique mix of awkward, horrifying and touching drama.

Had the first season mostly focused on that, it might have become my favorite show on television. The problem is the dramatic sci-fi storyline, that a handful of synths were created to have consciousness. Humans who already fear the impact of synths on unemployment and the world in general would now have to be concerned that they could be replaced entirely. This part of the story doesn’t flow as well and feels uncomfortable next to the more personal side of the tale. The ending of the first season was clearly also planned to be the ending of the series, just in case. Things get wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly.

Following in the wake of Ex Machina probably doesn’t help me appreciate Humans as much, either. Ex Machina was a taut, quickly paced and intense drama that delved into the impact of AI on our world. Humans is broader, sometimes for the better, other times not so much. Its pace is slower and occasionally uneven, with tension lacking when the danger should be felt most. Where Ex Machina was lean and furious, Humans is too often top heavy and overly earnest.

Will I return for a second season of Humans? Humans hasn’t blown me away like the AMC dramas Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels did. I may do something I don’t usually do and read advance reviews of season two to get a sense of where Humans is going and then decide. Until then, I’m firmly in the maybe column.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Saul’ essence of good storytelling

It was good to see Tuco again.

It was good to see the meditative, calming presence of Tuco again. Man, I missed him.

(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)

HOW DID SAUL GOODMAN end up in a position where he was working with psychotic, slimebag druglords like Tuco Salamanca and Walter White?

You get a sense of how Saul found himself where he found himself in Breaking Bad. Saul’s got that greed, to be sure, but he’s also an opportunist with an adrenaline addiction. He clearly likes to be on the edge, only to get a serious case of the nerves when he gets there. But while Saul is a scene-stealing character on that show, he’s not a primary character, one whose background gets much thought because it’s not really pertinent to that particular story. Sure, it would be fun to know what’s made Saul the man he is, but with all of Walt’s and Jesse’s death-defying hijinks, that wasn’t something Breaking Bad could or should have explored.

But Better Call Saul can and does mine that rich vein of Saul’s past. We get to me the real Saul, Slippin’ Jimmy, a low-rent con artist from Cicero, Ill., who ends up in jail because he takes a dump in the sunroof of a luxury car owned by the guy who was sleeping with his wife … only to find out, too late, that the cheating dick’s son and a fellow Cub scout were sitting in the back seat of the car when the felonious deuce was dropped. Jimmy gets out by promising his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), that he’ll leave the Chicagoland area and go with Chuck to Albuquerque to start over fresh.

When we meet Saul, it’s years later. He’s a lawyer now, hustling small-time cases and scraping together a living. Chuck, a partner in a big-time law firm, can’t leave his house because of a unique form of agoraphobia. Saul is serving all of Chuck’s needs while trying to scrape by a living mostly with public defender cases. Then, Slippin’ Jimmy gets lucky. A multi-million dollar, class-action lawsuit falls in his lap, and now Saul has leverage to get his foot in the door with Chuck’s firm, HHM. The firm agrees to take on the case, and although he is going to receive a hefty payday, he won’t get a job with the firm, and he won’t be allowed to work the case.

Saul is furious. He believes that, once again, Chuck’s partner Howard has kept him on the outside looking in. He won’t allow HHM to have the case, ranting and flailing, unsure of what to do next.

Then the truth reveals itself. Howard has never been against Saul. Turns out, Chuck has refused to allow HHM to hire Saul has anything more than a mailroom clerk. Chuck says Saul’s not a “real lawyer,” and that he is what he’s always been: Slippin’ Jimmy.

That moment, that seminal moment, combined with the death of a close friend from his Slippin’ Jimmy days, seals it. Saul was inspired by his brother to go legit, to cease walking, running down the path that would surely lead to prison or an early grave. But as viewers could see from Breaking Bad, that path less traveled never quite worked for him. That other path, the path of deceit, scheming and double-dealing, well, that’s the path that suits Saul best. And now, finally, he understands who he is, and he embraces it.

Mike Ehrmantaut was one of my favorite characters from

Mike Ehrmantraut was one of my favorite characters from “Breaking Bad.” I’ve seen nothing in “Better Call Saul” that dulls my affection one iota.

BUT WHAT REALLY PUTS Better Call Saul over the top isn’t Saul diving head first into the Slippin’ Jimmy, attorney at law, persona. It’s Mike Ehrmantraut. Because not only do we see the moment were Saul chooses the dark side, we get to see that same moment with Mike. He’d done dark things before he arrived in Albuquerque, but that was behind him. The future of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law, all he has left after the death of his son, now depends on him. And Mike will do whatever it takes – whatever it takes – to make their lives better. Where Saul is wishy-washy, taking years to find satori, Mike knows who he is and knows what matters to him. To him, there is no decision to be made. It is only time to set a course of action to make need or want become reality fulfilled. And so he does just that.

SO I GUESS YOU COULD SAY I’m really looking forward to Season 2. And, hopefully, more Tuco.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Notes from a ‘Breaking Bad’ latecomer

I came to Breaking Bad late for a number of reasons, none important, then decided to wait until the series was wrapped up to watch it straight through.

It was worth the wait.

The most Quentin Tarantino-esque character never to appear in anything by Tarantino is Mike Ehrmantraut. The scene above – which I couldn’t find in its entirety – may be the most Tarantino scene I’ve ever seen in something Quentin hasn’t written or directed. Mike releases the balloons to fly up to kill the power lines, then shoots his way through the business until his adjustment to finish off the baddie hidden behind the wall, all backed by funk music and all just screaming Tarantino. Add that to Mike’s “Half Measures” speech, and it’s amazing how Mike seems like a refugee from the Quentin-verse. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him smoke a Red Apple while chowing down on a Big Kahuna burger.

Many may not find that interesting, but if you lived through Pulp Fiction and its aftermath, you know many filmmakers spent the better part of the 1990s trying to become the next Quentin Tarantino, none with even a modicum of success. Kudos to Vince Gilligan and crew for finding that wonderful mix of danger, humor and bloodshed.

Why Breaking Bad might be the best show in the history of television. I say “might” for a reason. There are some problems with Breaking Bad, such as why a cautious, intelligent man like Gus Fring didn’t just put a bullet in Walter’s head the second Gale Boetteicher had even the vaguest clue about how to cook the blue glass. Fring’s on-going indulgence of Walter, even when he’s not being nice to Walt, makes zero sense to me in retrospect. Gus knew from the jump off what a bad idea it was dealing with Walt and ultimately paid for it with his life. It just seems out of character.

But enough about shortcomings. There’s one thing, to me, that elevates Breaking Bad to such lofty status: The end of Seasons 4 and 5. Because those two outcomes create two entirely different stories. If it ends after Season 4, Walt really is a hero. Yes, he’s done horrible things, mostly to horrible people (the main exception being the poisoning of Brock), but he accomplishes what he wants to accomplish: Keeping his family safe from his illegal activities while also creating an enormous nest egg to care for them should the cancer claim him. I’m not saying he’s absolved of his worst actions, but Walt still manages to come out a borderline hero. Season 5 changes that view of Walt entirely, as he actively jumps in to become a heavy hitter in the drug trade, not just a cook. He plans heists, he orders executions, he never thinks about taking a step back. He’s a full-on villain, even when achieving satori after his final fight with Skyler and Walt Jr. It was an amazing change in tone and a huge risk. It was also worth it, and shows a lot of guts pretty much no one else in network television has ever shown.

Why, Jesse, why? Why did Jesse stay with Walt? I understand the early attraction, the money, the drugs, getting a few laughs from making meth with a guy who flunked you in high school chemistry. But Walt was poison, period, and after a time Jesse clearly recognized that. Yet Jesse couldn’t say no to Walter until it was too late. I don’t know enough about abusive relationships to know whether or not Jesse followed that type of pattern, but it was another weakness of the show, that lack of a moment that cemented Jesse’s and Walt’s deep, unbreakable ties to each other that made Jesse cling to his former teacher until it tore him apart. It made for interesting television, to be sure, but it didn’t quite seem to make sense.

"Don't drink and drive. But if you do, call me."

“Don’t drink and drive. But if you do, call me.”

Better call Saul. I can’t wait for Saul Goodman’s spin-off. Saul was the enthusiastic if uneasy shyster, the guy who never thought anything was a good idea but was willing to hang in there in hopes of the big payday. Bob Odenkirk was the perfect choice, playing up the sense of humor to hide his insecurity about the depraved acts he was at least tangentially involved in. I think it will be interesting to see more of Saul the ambulance chaser as opposed to Saul the fixer.

I hate Albuquerque Nazis. Where Walt really went wrong: Getting involved with white supremacists. You’d think a guy like Walt who so coveted his anonymity would avoid guys with Nazi crosses tattooed on their necks, which doesn’t exactly exude subtlety. On the plus side, they made for a helluva ending.

Once again, we’re back to Pulp Fiction. As I worked my way through entirety of Breaking Bad, I kept thinking of Marcellus Wallace’s speech to the boxer Butch: “That’s just pride fucking with ya.” That could have been Walter White’s motto. Every time Walt thought about backing off, quitting, stepping away, something would anger him. Walt would perceive a lack of respect or his pride would be hurt, and he would in turn up the ante, to the point that, during the dinner scene at his in-laws, it seemed as if he might even admit to being Heisenberg to his DEA bro-in-law Hank. Walt’s only redemption is in the final episode, when he admits to Skyler that it was his pride that had pushed them to this low point. Powerful stuff, and a great way to end.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,